(AFP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a further setback Sunday in her efforts to stay in power after Dublin warned that her plans to form an alliance with a Northern Irish party could upset the province’s fragile peace.
In a phone call, Irish premier Enda Kenny told May that forming a minority government reliant on the support of the hardline Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could pose a “challenge” to the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.
The future of the proposed alliance had already been thrown into confusion late Saturday after May’s office announced that an outline agreement had been struck, only to backtrack and say that talks were still ongoing.
“The taoiseach (Kenny) indicated his concern that nothing should happen to put the Good Friday Agreement at risk and the challenge that this agreement will bring,” an Irish government spokesman said.
London’s neutrality is key to the delicate balance of power in Northern Ireland, which was once plagued by violence over Britain’s control of the province.
May responded that the DUP deal “would provide stability and certainty for the UK going forward”, her office said.
The 60-year-old is struggling to reassert her authority after losing her parliamentary majority in Thursday’s snap election, just days before Brexit talks begin.
The Sunday newspapers carried reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was set to launch a bid to oust her, although he dismissed them as “tripe”, insisting on Twitter: “I’m backing Theresa May.”
Former Conservative party leaders have warned any immediate leadership challenge would be too disruptive, but most commentators believe May cannot survive in the long term.
Former finance minister George Osborne, who May sacked after taking office following the Brexit vote last June, said she was now a “dead woman walking”.
– DUP deal –
With the new government set to present its legislative programme to parliament on June 19, the clock is ticking on efforts to bolster the Conservatives’ position after they won just 318 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said there had been “very good discussions” so far on how her 10 MPs could support a Conservative minority government, and she would travel to London to meet May on Tuesday.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the government was not looking at a formal coalition but would seek assurances that the DUP would vote with May “on the big things” such as the budget, defence issues and Brexit.
He stressed he did not share their ultra-conservative views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which have caused disquiet among many Conservatives.
More than 600,000 people have signed a petition condemning the proposed alliance, saying it is a “disgusting, desperate attempt to stay in power”.
Foster has yet to set out her demands but her party wants an end to prosecutions of British soldiers who fought in Northern Ireland and an easing of restrictions on parades.
Any concessions on these points are likely to antagonise the nationalist republican Sinn Fein, with whom the DUP shared power before their government collapsed earlier this year amid a breakdown in trust.
“We will of course act in the national interest and do what is right for the whole of the UK,” Foster said.
– Brexit talks on track –
May has shown little public contrition for the electoral gamble that backfired but was forced to accept the resignations of her two closest aides — reportedly a requirement by cabinet colleagues for allowing her to stay in office.
Fallon said the change in circumstances would require “a more collective approach” in government, but he also said he expected Conservative lawmakers to “rally behind” May when they meet early next week.
The prime minister spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday and confirmed she was ready to start Brexit talks “as planned in the next couple of weeks”. The negotiations had been due to start around June 19.
May began the two-year countdown to Britain’s withdrawal on March 29, promising to take Britain out of Europe’s single market in order to end mass migration from the continent.
But there is speculation she may now be forced to soften her approach, which had included a threat to walk away without a new trade deal in place.
Fallon told the BBC the government wanted a “new partnership with Europe that is careful about the trade we already do with Europe, that comes to some agreement on the immigration that we can accept from Europe”.